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A 'Survival Kit' for New Teachers

Curriculum CenterLooking for a "welcome -- we're here to help you" gift for your school's new teachers? Check out Survival Kit for New Teachers, a resource bulging with practical ideas for classroom use. Included: Ideas for building "teamwork" skills, motivating students, and creating reading response journals.

Survival Kit Book Cover Image


The first year of teaching is like riding a roller coaster--full of ups and downs.

No college program can prepare new teachers for the enormity of the task ahead. But the year will be made more manageable if the new teacher is prepared to take on a few mountains. That's why every teacher needs a "bag of tricks" -- a "survival kit"!


Not long ago, teachers Emma McDonald and Dyan Hershman were new teachers. They remember those days well; they know what all first-year teachers go through. That's why the two veteran teachers have put together the Survival Kit for New Teachers. This "survival kit's" 200-plus, spiral-bound pages are packed full of practical ideas and strategies for beginning teachers. Even the most experienced teachers will find the "kit" to be a useful teaching tool.

Some of the ideas might be familiar because, as all teachers know, teachers have a way of taking ideas -- from textbooks and teacher magazines and other teachers -- and reworking or adapting those ideas to meet their own needs. This sort of "professional sharing" is common in the profession, and it can help turn good teachers into great teachers.


Hershman and McDonald, both teachers in the Dallas area, cover just about every problem a teacher might encounter in Year One, or Year Twenty-Five. Useful and workable ideas, tips, strategies, and activities are offered in response to teacher questions and comments such as:

  • What questions do I need to ask to help me get a better start?
  • How do I talk to parents or hold a conference?
  • My education classes didn't teach me this!
  • How am I supposed to grade this? What is a rubric?
  • I'm so frazzled. Somebody help me, please!

"This book is meant as a starting point, not as a program," Hershman and McDonald caution in the introduction to their book. The book is one more resource to use in building a curriculum, one more tool to help teachers cope -- and excel.


One of the chapters in Survival Kit for New Teachers highlights activities for getting the school year off to a good start. Ideas for icebreakers and rainy day games can be found here. Also included are some great activities for new teachers -- no, any teachers -- to use in developing cooperative team skills. Here are a couple of the many activities offered to build "teamwork" skills, activities that will serve any teacher well throughout the year:

  • Draw an Alien Activity. In teams, have each student select a marker of a different color. All members of the team, using only their own colors, and with no oral communication, create a team picture of an alien creature. Once the illustration is complete, the team discusses the results and names their creature.
  • Desert Survival. "You are on an airplane that is forced down in the Sahara Desert in North Africa. All passengers are okay. There is no guarantee of a rescue, nor of continued survival. It is a 3-day journey north, to a city." Divide the class into small cooperative groups. As a group, students must choose seven of the 20 items in the "Desert Survival Box" to help the group survive the desert trek. The box includes a hand mirror, a parachute, a pencil, a book of matches, 2 cans of cola, scissors, an electric fan, a tube of toothpaste, and more. (See Survival Kit for New Teachers, page 68, for a complete listing.) At the end of the activity, the group must be prepared to tell why the seven items were selected.


Another section of Survival Kit for New Teachers focuses on ideas for motivating students. In this section, McDonald and Hershman share bunches of "meaningful, creative, and unique ideas," a veritable ABC of exciting ideas! Among the activities:

  • Atlas Race. Have students race against one another to locate various places using the atlas. Start with the entire class. Play five games as a class to get five different semi-finalists. Those students then play two rounds to determine the two finalists. The last two players play one more round to determine the champion.
  • Editing Using Colors. Seat students in groups of four and give each student a different colored pen or pencil. Each color is assigned to do a job. For example, blue is punctuation, red is spelling, green is sentence structure, and purple is capitalization. Each student passes their paper to the right. Everyone reads the story they have and edits the errors for their color. When finished, students switch the papers to the right and edit the next story. This continues until each reader receives his/her own paper.
  • X-tra Small or X-tra Large. Have students do their work on extra large or extra small pieces of paper. This makes the old boring paper/pencil task seem like a lot more fun. Another way to spruce up their work is by providing them with colored paper or index cards.


Survival Kit for New Teachers includes individual sections of teaching ideas for language arts, math, and science and social studies. In each section, teachers will find all kinds of activity ideas -- many complete with reproducible teaching masters. For example, in the language arts section, McDonald and Hershman offer tips for using the writing process. They address a handful of different writing styles (ie., persuasive writing, descriptive writing) and provide graphic organizers to help students write in each style. Just for the teacher, a grading checklist (rubric) is offered for each writing style. Also included, 25 question prompts for students to answer in their reading response journals. Among them:

  • What would happen to the story if the setting was 1000 years into the future?
  • Would you be friends with the main character? Why or why not?
  • What animal is the main character mostly like? Why?
  • Choose one of the characters to invite to a party. Which one did you choose and why?


A quick scan of the book's table of contents reveals more of the topics covered:

  • Career Bound. Advice for the job search, a list of possible questions that might be asked in an interview, a guide for helping applicants design appropriate questions for them to ask in an interview, and a casual reminder to send a thank you note to the interviewer.
  • Before School Starts. Tips for organizing the classroom, getting to know a little about your students before you meet them, creating a file for substitutes, and much more.
  • Classroom Management. A guide to establishing procedures, establishing rules and consequences, reward-based discipline (possible rewards included!), and a list of things you should never, never say to your students (I really mean it this time!, If you don't stop, I'm going to, etc.).
  • Parent Communication. Ideas for getting this all-important relationship off to a good start, tips for creating a simple parent newsletter and keeping records of parent communications, thoughts about preparing for Open House or the first parent-teacher conference, and a list of "positive ways to inform parents of negative behaviors."
  • Technology in the Classroom. Ideas and Web sites for integrating technology into math, science, social studies, and language arts.


Survival Kit for New Teachers is a terrific resource that should be included in every school's resource library, no, in every teacher's classroom! Teachers -- new and experienced -- will find in the "Kit" many practical classroom ideas. This volume could make life easier for all teachers, while making it more fun for their students.

In those schools where staffs like to welcome new teachers with something very special, why not provide a copy of Survival Kit for New Teachers to each new teacher? No more practical and useful gift will come their way!

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1998, 2017 Education World

Last updated 06/23/2017